Hiking Pacaya at Sunset: A Highlight of Guatemala

Volcanoes are at the top of my LOVE list when it comes to amazing formations.  So when I arrived in Antigua, the home of many volcanoes, I made it my mission to get up close and personal with one. Oh, and did I mention, these volcanoes are active!!!  I’ve seen a few volcanoes in my travels, but watching an active one spew lava, was all new.  Hiking Pacaya at sunset and watching it spew lava, quickly became my new obsession of the week.

Girl looking at Pacaya Volcano

Everything you need to know about Hiking Pacaya at Sunset

With many volcanoes in the area, I chose to stick to the smallest volcano, Pacaya, sitting at about 2550m.  I heard many mixed reviews about hiking Pacaya, but I have to say, it was one of my favourite experiences while in Guatemala.  Volcano hiking is a huge part of Guatemalan culture and is something you have to experience while visiting Antigua.

Finding a Tour Company

Most tour companies around Antigua sell tickets to visit Pacaya National Park.  We quickly realized that companies are all selling spaces on the exact same van to Pacaya. Ultimately, regardless of where you purchase your ticket, you’ll be getting the same experience.  Thus, find the cheapest ticket.

Pacaya Volcano Sign

We paid 90Q ($15 CAN) for our tickets, which included transportation and a guide.  It must be noted, a guide is required to enter the park.  On arrival, you will be required to pay an additional 50Q ($8.50 CAN) to enter the park and hike. So all together, your adventure will cost you 140Q ($23.50 CAN).  Our tour started at around 2pm in the afternoon and we were picked up at our hostel.  After we left Antigua, we drove for about an hour to the base of Pacaya. 

How to Dress

Figuring out how to dress for Pacaya was a big unknown and I flip-flopped about my choices all afternoon.  When we left, the temperature was around 25C and by the time we reached our highest lookout point, its was quite cool and windy.  I started the hike in shorts and a t-shirt and put on a long sleeve at the top.  I was a little cool in shorts after dark, but managed.  If you have lightweight pants, these wouldn’t hurt.  

Arriving at Pacaya

You’ll arrive at the base of Pacaya a couple hours before sunset to prepare for hiking. Here you will find restrooms, the ticket booth and many kids selling walking sticks for 5Q ($0.85 CAN).  If you’re somebody like me, and tend to fall or slip a lot, a walking stick is a great investment as the majority of the hike is on loose gravel and dirt. 

Man in front of Pacaya Volcano

The line to use the restrooms and purchase tickets took around 20 minutes and your hike will not start until everyone has purchased a ticket.  Once the ticket booth closed, the gate to the hiking trail opened and we were free to start hiking.  You are now set to start hiking towards Pacaya before the sunset.

Hiking

On entrance to the trail, we were bomb barded with a number of locals with horses asking if we’d like a taxi ride to the top.  For 100Q ($17 CAN), you can hire a horse to take you part way to the top, but must walk a small portion. 

Horses leading to Pacaya Volcano

The first few meters of the hike consist of stone, but the trail quickly turns into a fine dirt, making things very dusty.  Try to situate yourself in front of the horses, so you don’t take on so much dust.  We brought bandanas to cover our faces and were very thankful.

Hike look-out

The hike itself isn’t overly difficult.  There is definitely an incline, but it isn’t overly extreme.  If you’re in moderate to decent shape, this climb won’t be too difficult.  If you’re someone that has a few cobwebs on your hiking boots, you might find yourself a little more challenged, but overall, its a great hike.  Hay, the horses are always there if you decide you need a lift to the top.  You’ll also find that there are plenty of conveniently located rest stops along the way.

Reaching Pacaya

I should mention, you’re not actually hiking Pacaya Volcano, you’re hiking on a trail that brings you very close to the volcano and gives you amazing views.  It took us approximately 45 minutes to reach the spot where you can finally see Pacaya.  Here we stopped and took a bunch of photos before descending a small hill to get to the base of Pacaya.  This is also where the horses stop and you’re required to walk the rest of the way.

First glimpse of Pacaya Volcano

At the base of Pacaya you will find piles, and piles and piles of volcanic rock scattered everywhere.  You’ll quickly be reminded how powerful this volcano real is. 

Pacaya Volcano

Here our guide so kindly found a hot spot amongst the rocks and we roasted some marshmallows.  Roasting marshmallows over volcanic rock, was certainly a first for me. Talk about a rockin’ hot treat!

At the base of Pacaya you’ll also find the Lava Store, selling many products made from volcanic material.

Lava Store

Hiking Pacaya at Sunset

Here is where you will start a slightly steeper incline to watch the sunset. This is where you’ll really starting hiking to see the sunset and EPIC views of Pacaya!! 

Hiking Pacaya at Sunset

Pacaya Volcano

By surprise, once we climbed a little higher, we were able to see Agua Volcano in the opposite direction.

Agua Volcano

Once the sun started to go down, the magic started!! Not only did the sky start to turn an array of amazing colours, but Pacaya started to spew lava!!  Sadly, my camera didn’t capture this experience as well as I would have liked. My photos don’t do any sort of justice, but this was absolutely amazing! 

We started hearing some rumbles and stopped to watch the beauty of Pacaya again. Then, red hot rocks started to fly out of Pacaya and flow down its side. At this point, all my expectations had been exceeded. 

Lava spewing out of Pacaya Volcano

After standing and watching for a few minutes, I knew this was going to be one of the coolest things I’ve EVER seen! I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop raving about how cool it is to watch a volcano spew lava! Its truly incredible!!! 

Sunset over volcano

As the sunset and darkness approached, the sky above Pacaya turned a bright orange and the flowing lava multiplied. There wasn’t tons of lava, but LAVA WAS FLOWING! I can’t stress how amazing Pacaya looked at dark, so I’m absolutely suggesting that you chose to do your hiking adventure at sunset!!

Leaving Pacaya

After all the excitement of watching Pacaya explode and the sunset, we headed back down to the bus.  The descent took about 20 minutes and was very dark, so bring a flashlight.  Our bus then took about an hour to get back to Antigua and we were at our hostel around 8:30pm.

Brittany in front of Pacaya Volcano

Overall, if you’re looking for an epic volcano experience I would highly recommend hiking Pacaya.  Out of all the volcanoes around Antigua, Papaya is the smallest and easiest to climb, and definitely packs a punch.

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12 thoughts on “Hiking Pacaya at Sunset: A Highlight of Guatemala

  1. Ashley Nobes says:

    I love this site, Brittany explains and answers all your questions before you even need to ask. How incredibly detailed. From the pricing (with CAD conversion) to things that you would be very thankful to have, if you were planning on experiencing one of her amazing feats! Love this site, keep on updating us with all your new and previously travelled destinations… it’s a good read.

  2. Doctear says:

    Hey Brittany! I’m thinking of how amazing it would be to experience, see with your own eyes a volcano spewing lava. And you saw it, that’s so cool! You conquered Pacaya, well done.

  3. Butch Yaun says:

    What a trip down(up) memory lane! Led 10 young boys and 2 adults from Decatur, Georgia(USA) this volcan’ Pacaya back about 1982. Based on your photo’s the tourist travel has increased, like complete with horses and signs! We had taken a bus from nearby city and began hiking in pitch dark up dirt road. Tent camped at first level clearing near village. Next morning, a local volunteered to guide. With machete, he whacked his way to first view of volcano. Remember the two steps, one slide back, the yellow sulfur deposits along climb, as the condensation trickling only a short distance plus the skeleton remains of a dried tree. On the narrow rim atop, we’d duck the counterclockwise fume cloud and snap a few prized photo’s including volcan’ De Augua Best photo was of a lenticular cloud with myself with hiking cane in foreground. (Was published with our 7 pages of our 2 weeks touring from ocean to ocean.) Through the brush to a bit of a store/hang-out, we were advised that some locals of questionable intent planed to do us harm. We hailed a jeep, all 13 of us with backpacks, to the paved road. Then hailed a bus to town. Remember asking “Any of you guys start a fire back up the trail?”, Nope turns out Pacaya was just doing it’s evening puffing!

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